Why I Left the Island to Study Abroad

There’s nothing like talking to my youngest sister to make me realize how time has flown. She’s a full decade younger than me- I was born in 1990 and she in 2000. That’s a generation of difference that always leads to interesting discussions. Right now she’s applying for universities, which makes me realize that this time ten years ago was when I first started thinking about uprooting myself from Manila, Philippines, to study abroad. When you hear “study abroad” or “Erasmus,” it usually means leaving home for just one semester, a year at the most. But when I was given the choice, it would be the full four years or nothing.

Applying for university was the first taste of uncertainty to my very structured life of plaid uniforms, football practice and school years book-ended by lazy summers. I remember the rush of excitement that came with reading every new glossy college brochure, compounded with the dread that followed filling out application forms. Like many filipinos finishing high school, I applied to DLSU, Ateneo and UA&P. At the same time I was agonizing over my UCAS personal statement, since I dreamed of studying in the UK.

I recognize I am in a privileged position to even have considered leaving the Philippines for university. I was lucky not only to have parents hardworking enough to be able to give me this opportunity, but also very open-minded about letting me go. Having met while my father was in Spain and my mom was an air hostess, they also recognized the importance of travel and wanted to pass it on.

But why leave in the first place?

To stay would be a pretty straightforward career path. I wanted to be a journalist. So I would finish my degree, get a job and claw my way up the ranks. It was easy to imagine, would be much cheaper for myself and my parents, and was much less scary. But to leave would be such a great adventure. What would it be like, I wondered, to be somewhere totally unfamiliar where every adult you met didn’t greet you with, “Oh, of course I know your parents!”

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been if I had stayed. I probably would have studied at Ateneo instead of the University of Navarra. Maybe I would have got a job straight out of college instead of delaying adulthood at a surf camp in San Sebastián. Maybe I would be celebrating my fifth work anniversary instead of being in my third job since graduating. Where would I be living? Would I have finally learned to drive? What would I do on the weekends?

There aren’t too many instances when you can look back and know there was a clear fork in the road, but I know the decision to leave home was one of them. There are two lives I could have led and I’m pretty sure I would be happy either way. As I sit here typing this from my adult starter flat in sunny Barcelona on a couch covered in dog hair, I am pretty happy with choices I’ve made, the friends I’ve met and the little life I’m building. And the first step was leaving.


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